Open Source Cars

Community Collaboration isn't Just for Software

Written by Green Chip Stocks
Posted August 31, 2007 at 8:00AM

Open source . . . a notorious pair of harmless words that with their powers combined not only titillate computer junkies but also enrage the world's richest geek.

Why is this so?

Well, open source means that information in software can be spread freely, allowing other designers to have a go at modifying it to their needs or simply improving it before passing it on again.

The end result is generally a superior product that costs the user next to nothing and allows the community as a whole to benefit.

At a conference I attended a while back, Richard Stallman, a world renowned hacker, professor, programmer and a major proponent of open source software, said:

"When I released GNU Emacs and people started using it, they started sending me improvements in the mail. So I would get a message with a bug fix, and a message with a new feature, and another bug fix, and another new feature, and another . . . and another . . . until they were pouring in on me so fast that just taking advantage of all of the help people were giving me was a big job. Microsoft doesn't have this problem."

Now, being a great fan of free handouts--from garbage-picking old weed whackers to friends' left over chicken bones--I must admit that I would absolute love it if cars were open source.

I mean, if two heads are better than one, 6.5 billion would surely beat out the 15 or so in GM's board room.

And of course, any idea I have that can pass as slightly better than asinine has usually been done before. This case is no different.

After I plopped myself down at my desk and scrolled through several pages of Google search results I came up with three such operations that are designing enviro-friendly cars in an online open source forum.

In Europe, the Netherlands Foundation for Nature and Environment and the technical Universities of Delft, Eindhoven and Twente are developing a hydrogen hybrid vehicle called c,mm,n--pronounced common.

The irony of the name is blinding. Far from common, the c,mm,n's open source collaboration is evident in more ways than just its power train.

Taking full advantage of the University of Twente's expertise in communication technology, this vehicle can communicate with other drivers so that routes can be collectively planned and alerts can be transmitted, tipping off others to potential hazards and holdups.

Another unique feature that I believe will be one of those "how did I live without it before" sorta creations is the c,mm,n's community box.

The community box, located in the door, is like a mailbox for your car. It can be programmed to allow certain people to access it so you can receive items and allow for the pick up of others.

The second open source automotive project is being developed in Dingolfing, Germany.

Though the "Modular Oscar" project is in its infancy, it has some unique ideas that will hopefully materialize shortly.

The main idea of this vehicle is to build it with function taking precedence over form.

To ensure that it can work in a plethora of different applications, the Oscar car is designed to have different interchangeable parts so that body styles, engines, and motors can be switched in and out.

And finally, in the good ol' U.S. of A, the Kernel Hybrid vehicle is taking off with the Society for Sustainable Mobility.

The Kernel system allows the owner to switch out different power plants in less than an hour so that they can use whatever alternative fuel is the most readily available. It can even be turned into a plug-in hybrid.

This all sounds great, but the one problem with this sort of open source vehicle development is the same as with any operation with a multitude of view points.

The more ideas, the more to disagree with. But just maybe this lot of loons can beat the big, stuffy car companies with this freedom of sharing.